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Big weekend changes to Alberta’s political landscape

WATCH ABOVE:  It was a big weekend for Alberta politics. As Carolyn Kury De Castillo reports, some observers say it now looks like the infamous Wildrose floor crossings may be one of the worst political moves ever.

CALGARY — It was a night of renewal and the end of some political careers. The Wildrose Party elected new leader Brian Jean and three Wildrose floor crossers failed to secure their Tory nominations.

Some observers are saying it now looks like the infamous floor crossings may be one of the worst political moves ever.

It was a bad night for former Wildrose MLAs who crossed the floor to the progressive conservatives. Three of them, including former leader Danielle Smith lost their PC nomination votes.

Asked Sunday afternoon via text message whether she had a few minutes to talk about Saturday night’s upset, Smith responded, “No. I am leaving public life.”

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READ MORE: Danielle Smith apologizes after angry text to Global News reporter 

Smith maintains it was not a mistake to lead the floor-crossers in December.

“No. Absolutely not. I believe Jim Prentice is exactly the leader that we need right now. I think it’s important for conservatives to unify under his leadership,” Smith said.

READ MORE: Danielle Smith’s move to PCs ‘unprecedented’

The premier was asked Monday about Smith’s defeat.

“Danielle Smith is a very talented woman,” he said. “She has changed Alberta politics in time she’s been here. I think she’s deserving of respect. I’ve been concerned about some of the piling on that’s taken place, frankly.

Prentice said he considers the former Wildrose leader a friend.

“At the end of the day in our democracy it is always the people that make the choice. We have contested nominations in our party and at end of day Carrie Fischer was successful candidate there and will be our nominated candidate in High River.

“Danielle Smith is an extremely talented person, she has given a lot of herself to this province and public life,” Prentice added.

“Public life is not easy. She made decisions she stood by those decisions. In some cases people agreed, some disagreed.”

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But political observers say it turns out the floor crossings were a blunder on Jim Prentice’s part, who put his reputation on the line for Smith.

“I think it was one of the worst political moves ever,” said public opinion consultant Janet Brown.

“I still can’t quite compute how they can say they didn’t see it there would be public resistance.”

“They didn’t see there would be anger. It was a huge miscalculation on the part of the premier to think that Albertans would just sort of happily accept the fact that the opposition party was being blown apart,” Brown added.

NDP leader Rachel Notley said Monday that the floor crossing was a “profound demonstration of disrespect to our democratic system.”

“Jim Prentice may have thought that he’d scored a really great Machiavellian coup when he got the official opposition to cross the floor to him, but I think the bottom line is that never passed the smell test for most Albertans,” added Notley.

“People have some serious trust issues with both Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith and what happened to her on the weekend was clear evidence of her paying the price for that.”

There may have been some immediate rejoicing from Wildrose faithfuls at Smith’s loss, but the end result of Okotoks councillor Carrie Fischer defeating Smith could play out well for the Tories.

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“But ironically, I think when the dust settles, this may not be a bad thing for the PCs. I think the PCs have a better chance of winning the seat with Carrie Fisher representing them than they did with Danielle Smith,” Brown said.

“The lifeblood of the Progressive Conservative Party has been contested nominations and in those contested nominations it is the people in individual constituencies that decide,” said Prentice. “And they’re always right. They make the choice and we proceed on that basis.”

Prentice said Smith has given a lot to public life in Alberta and hopes she will continue to do so in the future.

“I am concerned about some of what I’ve read in social media and in the media about Danielle.

“I don’t think it’s fair and I think we should respect people who are in public life who’ve given a lot.”

Now, the Wildrose picks up the pieces with new leader Brian Jean, a former conservative MP who is an old colleague of premier Prentice from his Harper government days.

He just hopes voters don’t reward the Tories with a majority government in the next election.

“It’s not right and I don’t know why Albertans continue to take it. I think they are tired of it and I think they want to government that will focus on what they want,” Brian Jean said.

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Where once it looked like Prentice had delivered a fatal blow to the Wildrose, some are saying they may be back in the game.

“If the Wildrose can come back from this, it will be one of the most dramatic comebacks in Canadian political history,” Brown said.

Now the question is, will the recent budget reaction and the nomination results affect when Albertans will go the polls.

“If I were in Jim Prentice’s office, I would be feeling nervous about calling an election after such a tough week and tough weekend,” Brown said.

Two other Wildrose floor-crossers lost their nomination votes Saturday night.

Incumbent Rod Fox was defeated in Lacombe-Ponoka and Gary Bikman lost in  Cardston-Taber-Warner.

With files from Emily Mertz, Global News

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